Following ongoing concerns over staffing shortages and lack of additional capacity to meet demand within the veterinary professions, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) will be holding a major summit with veterinary stakeholders this autumn to examine the issues surrounding workforce shortages and develop potential solutions.
The summit, which is due to be held in November 2021 and is taking place under the auspices of the College’s ViVet innovation project, will take a holistic approach to tackling workforce shortages with discussions revolving around the “three Rs” of recruitment, retention and return to work.
While there has been plenty of anecdotal evidence of workforce shortages, including in the national media, ahead of the summit the RCVS will be conducting research to better gauge the extent of the problem on both a national and a regional basis.
Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO, explains: “Workforce shortages within the veterinary sector has been a concern for some time, however, in the past few months there has been a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances, which have come together to exacerbate the problem. The issues include the ongoing impact of the pandemic, burnout and fatigue within the profession; the UK’s exit from the European Union, which has seen a significant reduction in the number of EU vets joining the Register as well as an associated increase in the need for veterinary certification; and an increase in pet ownership, and therefore demand for veterinary services, over the course of the pandemic.
“While there has already been a lot of focus and discussions around recruitment and retention, something less spoken about is return, and the summit will consider the reasons why members of the profession may move away from clinical practice and if there’s more scope for different ways of working that could bring people back into clinical practice.
“Ahead of the summit we will be reviewing all the latest data that we and other organisations have shared to better understand the gap between capacity and demand, the push and pull factors on decisions to either join or leave clinical practice and build a more evidence-based picture of veterinary workforce trends.”
The summit itself, the date of which is yet to be confirmed, will involve key veterinary stakeholders including the veterinary schools, veterinary employers and representative bodies, coming together to ensure that there will be a joined-up approach in finding solutions to the issues confronting the profession.
Lizzie adds: “As a ViVet-led endeavour we will be looking at the data and then using innovative thinking to help us move problems towards solutions. It may not necessarily be easy to identify all the solutions in one day, and they won’t all come from the RCVS, but opening up the conversation and getting the professions focused on taking appropriate action is an important first step.”
Meanwhile, RCVS President Kate Richards this week wrote to all veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses about the veterinary workforce shortages, providing reassurance to them that the RCVS was aware of the problem and the additional pressures they are under as a result.
In the letter she wrote: “In the face of current shortages, I would like to stress that we support practice teams in prioritising cases strictly according to the health and welfare needs of their patients, and in informing their clients of the need to do so. We would also urge veterinary surgeons to share their caseload as much as possible, delegating permitted procedures to their veterinary nurse colleagues wherever appropriate to do so.
“And, we would like to remind veterinary surgeons that their current 24/7 emergency cover obligations, as set out in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, are limited only to taking steps to provide 24-hour emergency first-aid and pain relief to animals according to their skills and the specific situation.”
She also added that, while members of the profession may be anxious about a potential increase in the number of concerns being raised by clients because they are not able to offer the level of service they would ideally like to, the RCVS would always take into account the entire circumstances surrounding a complaint as part of its investigation process. Furthermore, she said that the College would also continue to raise awareness among animal owners of the acute challenges currently facing veterinary teams around the country, and to request their ongoing patience and understanding.
To assist the profession, a series of FAQs have been produced to help with different situations that vets may encounter at the moment, particularly around the provision of 24/7 emergency cover, and to provide further guidance on delegating procedures to veterinary nurses. These can be found on the news section of our website.